Access to justice has been dealt another blow following the closure of a north-west London law centre which opened its doors nearly five decades ago.
The Law Centres Network confirmed on Friday that Brent Community Law Centre has closed: 'Like many charities, it has been significantly weakened by unrelenting public funding cuts while demand for its help has grown.' The network says an orderly closure is underway, and clients and partners have been informed.
According to the Charities Commission website, in the financial year ending 31 March 2019, the law centre had an income of £287,852 but it spent £333,993. Its 2018/19 annual report states that the law centre received its core funding from Brent Council via a contract with Citizens Advice Brent. The centre also provided specialist advice to clients referred by other local advice agencies. Average weekly number of staff was 8.5 (expressed as full-time equivalents). The centre was 'in the process of restructuring its services and its finances to create a more sustainable model'.
Councillor Ketan Sheth, chair of Brent Council’s community and wellbeing scrutiny committee, said the law centre was a 'much used and appreciated lifeline for many, many Brent residents over the past decades'.
Brent Council's website states that the public authority no longer has direct access to the law centre for advice due to funding changes. People who live, work or study in the borough are told to visit Citizens Advice where they will be assessed face-to-face. If Citizens Advice is unable to help, individuals will be referred to another law centre or organisation. Alternatively, the Brent Advice Matters website has information on social welfare law, housing, immigration, work, money, health and benefits.
Nimrod Ben-Cnaan, head of policy and profile at the Law Centres Network, said his organisation was 'already exploring ways’ to re-establish a law centre service in Brent ‘and hope to do so before long'.